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Karagöz is a shadow play performed on a white curtain with a backlight reflecting figures of humans, animals or objects called tasvir made from camel or water buffalo hide and attached to rods.
The name of the Karagöz curtain is Küşteri square after a historic person named Sheikh Küşteri. One legend says that Karagöz and Hacivat, the two main characters in the play, were executed by Sultan Orhan because they were holding up construction when they worked on a mosque, but that the Sultan later regretted this decision. Sheikh Küşteri saw that the Sultan was upset, so he made images of Karagöz and Hacivat and played them on a curtain. It is for this reason that Karagöz performers consider Sheikh Küşteri to be the founder of their art.
Karagöz is a shadow play performed by an artist and is based on the funny dialogues and squabbles between Karagöz and Hacivat. The comical effect is achieved by the plays on words, dances and movements.
The lead character Karagöz is a realistic commoner who is uneducated, brave, and transparent with his emotions, gets angry and fights at the drop of a hat, but cannot tolerate hypocrisy and lies. He does not understand what educated characters like Hacivat, Çelebi and Tiryaki say, or pretends not to understand, and he misinterprets them. These contrasts result in a variety of comical situations. Karagöz is frequently in trouble because he sticks his nose into everyone’s business and is very blunt, but by the end of the play he finds a way to get out of his troubles. Hacivat, on the other hand, is the exact opposite of Karagöz. He is a shrewd man of education who is very knowledgeable, speaks well, is consulted for advice by the entire community, and accepts the status quo, but he is sneaky, tells people what they want to hear, and puts his own interests first. He employs Karagöz and tries to exploit him to make a living.
The play includes other characters too, such as Zenne, Çelebi, Tiryaki, Beberuhi, Laz, a man from Kayseri, a man from Kastamonu, an Arab from Rumeli, a Kurd, an Albanian, European/Greek, Armenian, Jew, a drunk, a ruffian and Çengi.
Music and dance are important elements in Karagöz plays. The characters in the Karagöz play dance onto the stage accompanied by local music. The shadow play achieves its holistic effect by virtue of the seamless performance of lines, poetry, music, dance and puppet movements.
The Karagöz play consists of four parts. The opening segment is called mukaddime (beginning) where Hacivat comes on stage singing a semai, and after reciting the curtain poem, he calls for Karagöz, and they have an argument. The curtain poem that Hacivat recites in this section emphasizes the philosophical and mystical meaning of the play by depicting it as an educational tool and gauge of truth. The next section focuses on the personalities of Karagöz and Hacivat and how opposite they are. It contains concrete repartee that is separate from the sequence of events based solely on verbal exchanges between Karagöz and Hacivat. This is called muhavere (conversation, dialogue). The muhavere may also be presented as a rhyme. The section which contains the actual story and where the other characters make their appearance is called the fasıl (play). The play is named based on the subject matter addressed here. At the end of the fasıl, the other characters leave the stage to Hacivat and Karagöz. In the final act, Karagöz and Hacivat beg the audience's forgiveness for the jokes and misunderstandings in the play and announce the next play.
The artist who performs Karagöz is trained in a master-apprentice relationship and is called hayali. Karagöz performers are multitalented artists that combine the function of author, director, musician, actor and puppet-maker as they serve as pioneers in playwriting and identifying the needs of the people. These artists have the rare skill and intelligence required to impersonate all of the characters and perform all of the music in the play on their own, to improvise and alter the plays depending on the audience and to make their own puppets.
The education of the apprentice who works with hayali and is called yardak begins with attaching the puppets to rods and continues until the yardak gets to the place where he can perform the play. In the past, assistants and the person responsible for the play set were called sandıkkar, those who sang in the play were called yardak and the tambourine player was called dayrezen. Today, however, all of the people who help hayali are called yardak.
Karagöz performances were held in coffee houses, parks,circumcision parties, homes and public spaces, but today they are generally performed on stages. However, because Karagöz can be performed outdoors and indoors, it is possible to see Karagöz performances in different areas of public life. In particular, the performances during the month of Ramadan maintain the vibrancy of the past.
Karagöz performers practice their art in places like Istanbul, Bursa, Ankara, Adana, Gaziantep and Izmir where it is easier to attract an audience. Their grave, which is thought to be in Bursa’s oldest cemetery, the Yoğurtlu Baba Lodge, was converted into a mausoleum in 1950, and a porcelain relief statue of Karagöz and Hacivat was created on a symbolic curtain. There are three representative gravestones behind the monument. The Karagöz Museum directly across from the mausoleum serves as a cultural center where traditional shadow plays and other events are held. Karagöz plays are performed regularly in the building, which is Turkey’s only Karagöz Museum. The museum opened in 1997 and features displays of puppets and shadow play figures collected from various countries as well as traditional Karagöz figures from the private collection of Şinasi Çelikkol.
Founded in 1990, the International Puppet and Shadow Play Union (UNIMA) Turkish National Center has created a network to ensure that Karagöz is passed down to future generations and to give members and Karagöz performers access to information about Karagöz.
The Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the UNIMA Turkish National Center, municipalities, universities and civil society organizations organize many events to transmit the Karagöz play to future generations, raise social awareness and guarantee that the tradition remains viable.
The Ministry of Culture and Tourism continues to work on collecting plays and archiving puppets.
In 2010, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism proclaimed Tacettin Diker, Orhan Kurt and Metin Özlen to be "Living Human Treasures" for their contributions to performance of the Karagöz play, making puppets and keeping this tradition alive.
In 2006, the Intangible Cultural Heritage, Living Karagöz International Symposium was organized in cooperation with the Gazi University Turkish Folklore Research and Application Center, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism Directorate General of Research and Training, the UNIMA National Center and the Turkish National Commission for UNESCO in order to transmit the tradition to future generations. In 2008, the Intangible Cultural Heritage and Karagöz Workshop was organized in cooperation with the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and the UNIMA Turkish National Center.
In 2011, ninety-five junior high students from 16 different schools learned to make Karagöz figures and had an opportunity to perform their own Karagöz plays as part of the Intangible Culture Heritage: I’m Learning Karagöz Project, conducted with support from Ege University, the UNIMA Turkish National Center and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.
In cooperation with the UNIMA Turkish National Center and Bursa Municipality, and in partnership with the Turkish National Commission for UNESCO and the UNIMA Turkish National Center, the International Shadow-Puppet Plays Festival and Panel was held April 23-25, 2013 in Eskişehir, which was proclaimed Cultural Capital of the Turkic World and UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Capital.
The 15th International Bursa Karagöz Shadow and Puppet Plays Festival held once every two years since 1993 is scheduled for November 2013. Furthermore, Karagöz Cultural Festivals are also held at Bursa Orhaneli, where the Karagöz monument is located. Throughout the festival, Karagöz and Hacivat painting and handicraft stands and displays are set up on the festival grounds.
In particular, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism makes a point to publish works related to the traditional Karagöz play. For example, the following works by Ünver Oral were published by the Ministry of Culture: The Fool in His New Home (İbiş Yeni Evde) (2001), The Fool and Karagöz (İbiş ve Karagöz) (2001), The Fool’s Wisdom Tooth (İbiş’in Akıl Dişi) (2001), Karagöz and Traffic (Karagöz ve Trafik) (2001), The Fool Came, Karagöz Came (İbiş geldi Karagöz geldi) (2001), Karagöz Does Ice-Cream (Karagöz’ün dondurmacılığı) (2001) Karagöz for Children(Çocuklara Karagöz) (2000), Karagöz is the Park Ranger (Karagöz Park Bekçisi) (1999). Works set forth as examples in this area are The Colors of Shadows (Gölgenin Renkleri) prepared by the Ministry in 2008 and the Classic Karagöz Plays DVD set published by the UNIMA Turkish National Center in 2011 with contributions from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.
Karagöz was registered on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity on behalf of Turkey in 2009.
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